It’ll be Halloween again in a week and who best to feature but Ray Villafane ─ hands down ─ “the Best Pumpkin Carver in the World!” as he was so aptly called by Steve Hartman. Well, that’s because just about no one does pumpkins like Villafane. You will see why in the pictures below.
Villafane is so famous he has become the darling of the press. He has been written about in every newspaper and magazine, website and blog including People Magazine, Star Magazine, Men’s Health, Wall Street Journal, The Las Vegas Sun, The Sun (in the UK, plus others like) The Telegraph, Daily Mail, The Post …you name it, he’s been in it. And then he has been on almost every show on earth like the Fox 10 News, the Martha Stewart Show, the Evening News with Katie Couric as well as Steve Hartman’s Assignment America where he was ceremoniously referred to as “the best pumpkin carver in the world!”.
Martha Stewart, completely taken over when he was on her show, gave him the godly moniker of being “the Michelango of Pumpkin Carving” while the Wall Street Journal, firmly placing Villafane amongst the ranks of artist greats, called him “the Picasso of Pumpkin Carving”. They are not wrong. Not by a long shot.
Pumpkin Carving as a CareerSo who says pumpkin carving is just kid’s fun on Halloween? It’s serious business. You can build an empire with it just as Villafane has done.
In fact, he has done so well, he runs his own studio today called Villafane Studios (click to visit!) with a team of professional artisans who focus on sculpting. Nowadays, they don’t do just pumpkins but also other “temporary art” such as sand and snow sculptures. He still makes movie action figures (from the likes of X-Men, Wolverine, Alien, The Predator, Terminator, to name a few) and holds master classes on pumpkin carving as well as year round events and shows.
Watch Villafane carve the Epic Zombie Trail Pumpkin Sculpture in New York Botanical Gardens (2012)
3rd Annual Enchanted Pumpkin Garden 2017
This year ─ from the 20th to 29th October ─ Villafane Studios and team will be displaying their pumpkin creations at the 3rd Annual Enchanted Pumpkin Garden 2017 (a desert garden for visitors) in Carefree, Phoenix Arizona. Ray’s Villafane Studios is also on facebook. Do pop by to watch him in action. He regularly posts up his videos and sculptures whether in pumpkin, sand or comic and pop culture collectible form for all to see and enjoy.
At Last Year’s Enchanted Pumpkin Garden Event
Watch the Explosive Carving process here
Humble BeginningsBut it was not always this way for the extraordinary artist.
Villafane had humble beginnings and spent his early years growing up in a farm. He found fame in pumpkin carving quite by chance. In his earlier days back in the 90s after graduating from the School of Visual Arts, New York, he became an art teacher to kindergarten to 12th Grade students in the village school of Bellaire, Michigan.
According to his website, he began dabbling in pumpkin sculpting as projects with his students but when the students’ parents got impressed and started requesting for his pumpkin carvings, Villafane realised that he was on to something and began offering his pumpkin carvings to local hotels and restaurants.
He had always known that art was his calling, especially sculpting. Back in the day, he was sculpting action figure toys for the collectibles industry of Warner Bros, Marvel Comics, Hasbro, Blizzard etc, while carving pumpkins as a fall hobby.
Although he was sculpting toys for big names, it was his pumpkin hobby that changed his life forever. People went gaga because he was among the first, if not the first, to up the ante of the of the artform’s paradigm. And before anyone could say “Pumpkin Carving!”, he was propelled to instant fame by all the attention he was getting. By 2006, he gained so much recognition for his art that he resigned as a teacher to take on pumpkin carving and sculpting on a fulltime basis.
Did You Know: Villafane says when he carves, he makes it up as he goes along. He never has a preconceived idea about how the carving should turn out. He just starts and then goes with the flow to wherever it leads.
Here’s a video of Villafane when he was featured in Wall Street Journal.
Today, Ray Villafane has a cult following and is a busy, busy man, running a full-fledged studio doing sculptures for events as well as parties and functions. For example, he was called to carve pumpkins in Las Vegas for Heidi Klum’s Halloween party. He was also invited to the White House.
His website takes bookings as well as online shopping orders for his DVD tutorials, digital download tutorials as well as pumpkin carving tools for those who want to carve like the master.
Did You Know: For all the pumpkins he deals with, Villafane is allergic to pumpkins! “If I’m carving too many or too long, my skin gets really itchy and if pumpkin juice gets anywhere near my eyes, my eyes itch.” He also dislikes the smell.
Watch his Tutorial. Look at how he does the eyes
Can’t get enough of pumpkins? Read:
Here are 7 trade secrets to how he does it (Paraphrased from NBC News slidshow):
1. One Pumpkin per Carving: Villafane says he only ever uses just one pumpkin for every carving, and not several put together. Only on rare occasions does he use bits from another pumpkin or fruit for embellishments.
2.Round is not Ideal for Face Making: Don’t go for perfectly round pumpkins as there is no space for facial features. The nicest, most well-formed pumpkins are not necessarily the best ones for carving.
3. Go for Oblong Pumpkins for Faces: Oblong pumpkins give more room to carve from forehead to chin so as to bring out realistic faces.
4. Go for Thick-Walled Pumpkins: The secret is in the weight. The thickness of the pumpkin wall is determined by its weight. Thus, always go for heavy pumpkins, the heaviest of same size pumpkins you can find. Pick three pumpkins of the same size, compare their weights and take the one that is the heaviest. It will be meaty enough to provide a firm wall for carving.
5. Go Deep: To create a truly 3D carving, depth is very important. Use all of the pumpkin’s depth. Go as deep as you can without breaking through. When carving faces, the eye area and just below the nose are the deepest areas. The tip of the nose should be left untouched, except to remove the rind.
6. Use the Right Tools: Villafane seldom uses a knife. Most of the time, he uses ribbon loop tools for moulding clay sculptures. Sometimes he uses a paring knife to dig out parts but only at the end of the carving, if at all.
7. Use a Mirror: For beginners, use a reference such as a picture. For face reference, nothing beats a mirror.